Iain smiled as he surveyed the mess of objects spread across his bed. He could almost hear Rafi behind him, shaking her head at the disarray. She'd be surprised, he thought, to note that he normally kept his things a little tidier than he had in the past. He'd had to on board La Stella Cadente; their quarters had been tight and anything left on the floor for too long tended to roll away and get lost.
He could think of his sister with a lighter heart now, though he still felt the guilt of not having written to her in the six weeks he'd been home. That oversight would soon be rectified, however, as he delivered all of his letters to her personally. Highever lay only three days walk from West Hill and if he could find a caravan heading east tomorrow afternoon, he'd be there by week's end. Energy swept through the young man and he stuffed all of his belongings in his pack, not stopping to fold his shirts or match his socks. What did one odd sock matter?
As if summoned by the thought of his name, Socks wandered in and brushed past his legs. Iain bent over to pick up his cat and hugged the furred body to his chest for a moment.
Scratching between Socks' ears he murmured, "We're going walking again tomorrow, Socks."
Chuckling, Iain let Socks go and resumed packing his things.
A soft knock sounded behind him and Iain looked up to see his father hovering in the open doorway. They'd spoken a little the evening before, nothing momentous, an apology from Iain, a few words in return from Callum. He had told his son he understood, sort of, and Iain could see it in his eyes, that struggle to make sense of things. Then, this morning, when Iain announced his intent to leave for Highever the next day, Callum looked relieved.
Iain waited for his father to speak, knowing the man had chosen to visit him for a reason, that what he wanted to say would be for his son's ears only. Callum pulled a small piece of paper from his pocked and Iain recognised it as the folded sheet that had fallen from Rafi's letter. He handed it over and Iain took it. After studying his father's face a moment longer, Iain unfolded the sheet and read:
Papa, I cannot hide it any longer from you. I have nowhere, no one else to whom I can turn.
I cannot hide it any longer from you. I have nowhere, no one else to whom I can turn.
He read about his sister's difficulties in learning to use different weapons. The letter both sounded like her but not. It had Serafina's tone, but none of the innate confidence he had always admired in his twin. He recognised the emotion behind her words though, the frustration at not being able to grasp something new, the fear of disappointing her father and thoughts of giving it all up. It was like reading a letter from himself.
Looking up from the page at last, Iain wondered why his father had shown him the letter. Callum was not a vindictive man; he would not aim to hurt him with his sister's distress, of that he felt sure. He had another purpose in mind.
After a moment's thought, Iain made a tentative guess. "You want me to help her."
"She's having a rough time, Iain."
"I..." Iain took a breath and shook his head. "I don't know if I can." A small flutter of panic passed across his chest. "I'm not, I..." That fear of disappointment gripped him, the same he'd felt in Rafi's letter and on his own throughout the years. Better to outright state his failure now than report it later. "I can't, dad."
"Iain, you trained with a sword from the age of six, with a shield from ten. You worked side by side with your sister; you two know each other's style better than any other. Who better to help?"
Could he tell his father he did not know if he would return to squiring? Would Callum be horribly disappointed or disgusted? Iain's plan, currently, was to return to Highever and see his sister. Maybe he'd take a laboring job or he had enough gold to do nothing for a while if he wanted to. Of course, the gold could also be used to purchase new armour to replace what he'd lost, to buy a better sword, a shield. He didn't even know if he could walk back between the gates of Castle Cousland though, let alone pick up a sword and swear fealty to a new teyrn.
Iain glanced up at his father. Callum was a hero; he had saved Bryce Cousland's life at the battle of White River. He'd secured a place in Highever for his children and the possibility of a knighthood. Iain felt a weight settle back onto his shoulders, the pressure to live up to an expectation he'd begun to chafe against two years before, and he straightened his posture against it. He drew on what had got him through the battle against Howe's men, past his ordeal in the dungeon and carried him to the end of his bargain with Captain Idowu. Persistence.
Folding the letter, he handed it back. "Alright, I'll try." He owed it to his father, his sister and himself to make the attempt.
Callum smiled and gripped his shoulder. "It will be just like old times, eh?"
Mustering up a smile and injecting it with the enthusiasm he'd felt earlier, the desire to see his sister and his eagerness to be on the road, Iain nodded and put his hand over his father's. "Aye."
"I'll write to her then, tell her you're coming?"
Iain's smile became a grin of mischief. "Just tell her you're sending her something that might help, dad, then let me surprise her. Likely I'll get there a day after your letter."
With a chuckle, Callum agreed to the plan. "Sure, why not." His father had a sense humour after all.
After Callum left, his mother breezed in with an armful of cloth. She began speaking before setting her stuff down. "Now I've got some shirts here for you and Sera, some new ones." She looked up from the pile, her eyes measuring the breadth of his shoulders and the length of his arms before narrowing as she noted the loose fit of his current shirt. "You need to eat more, Iain, you're too thin." With that out of the way she picked up the first shirt, one of a mossy green colour, and held it up against his chest. "Oh, my. Yes. This one is for you, obviously." She let it go and Iain moved his hands up to catch it before it fell to the floor.
The cloth felt smooth, much finer than the shirts he'd become used to wearing aboard La Stella Cadente and he smiled at the colour. He liked it. It would match his eyes. He'd not worn anything but plain, rough cotton for a couple of years. His mother had made him two shirts since he'd been home, both cut from the same cloth as his father's and grandfather's, a grey sort of blue and designed to withstand weather and work. Theresa had been making him shirts like that his whole life, but every now and then she made him a special one. He now owned five shirts. He'd never owned so many...
Theresa pulled the two rough shirts from his pack. "You won't be needing these old things..." He now only owned three shirts again. "Here I've made you another one too." She held up a red shirt.
Iain's smile spread wide. "You made me a red shirt."
"Well, it's your favourite colour, isn't it?"
"Thanks, mum." He enveloped woman and shirt in a hug.
After disengaging herself, Theresa flipped through the rest of the material. "There are two new ones here for Sera and write to me when you get there and tell me if she needs breeches or, well, she'll write to me too and..." she trailed off and just stood smiling at him.
"I'll miss you, Iain."
"I'll write to you the very minute I see Rafi, alright? I'll stop mid-hug, pull out a pen and write it all down, right away. I'll tell Rafi she has to wait to shower me with hugs and kisses in return," he waved his hands about to indicate the rain of adulation, "because I have to send a letter to mum, she's waiting by the door for it, and I'll make sure she watches as I mail it, because Rafi never tells lies, and then she can write too and tell you all about it."
"Oh, Iain..." She seemed to be smiling and weeping at the same time. "You are so silly." The smile won out and turned into a soft laugh which became a little hiccup at the end. He had to hug her again.
After his mother left, Iain waited for his grandfather. He smiled as he waited and imagined himself standing there all evening, bag half packed while he received a line of visitors.
Gavin appeared on cue, the drum in his hand. "Got room for your drum?"
Taking a deep, chest expanding breath, Iain said, "Yes."
Unlike his previous visitors, his grandfather had nothing of import to say. He merely sat on the bed and chatted amiably about the weather, road conditions and the oddness of traveling with a cat. Iain appreciated the old man's company. He'd always felt comfortable around his grandfather, but this visit they'd become closer than ever. It wasn't just the shared knowledge of the dungeon, or the day at the beach, it was something less definite but more important. A tacit acceptance. Gavin never asked him to be other than who or what he was and Iain always felt he could be just himself with his grandfather.
The rest of the evening passed in story and song. It could have been any evening at the MacKinnon household, instruments across laps, voices raised together, but an atmosphere warmer than the fire and sweeter than the second apple pie filled the room. Iain absorbed it all, made a place inside himself for it. He'd need it, he knew that. Returning to Stormgard had been difficult, but a harder path lay ahead.
Captain Idowu had offered him a place, if he didn't find what he looked for. Iain still felt the pull of the ocean, but mostly as a lull to his more turbulent thoughts. Maybe one day he'd return to the sea and he'd be welcome there. In the meantime, however, he'd try to help Rafi and he'd try to meet his father's expectations. He'd please his mother and remember that his grandfather loved him regardless. And if he failed, he knew could return here, always. Because this was home.
((OOC: Iain leaves Stormgard on 12/14))
"Whoo!" *shoves Iain out of the way*. I've got a little 'Author's Note' to put down here. If you made it this far, thanks for reading! This story has been a fabulous way to introduce Iain to the boards. Thanks for the positive comments and encouragement along the way. :) I'd also like to thank Serafina's player (ladyamesindy) for her contributions. The MacKinnon family belongs to both of us and she had as much a part in fleshing them out for this story as I did.
I'd also like to thank Serafina's player (ladyamesindy) for her contributions. The MacKinnon family belongs to both of us and she had as much a part in fleshing them out for this story as I did.